A Brief History of Pest Control

Ever heard of the Black Plague? You know, one of the most devastating pandemics resulting in the death of approximately 75 to 200 million people in Europe?

Or how about the Plague of Locusts in the Book of Exodus? The story goes that those little buzzers devoured anything that came close to resembling greenery, and covered the ground in such great numbers that it could no longer be seen.

Doesn’t sound at all like the pest infestations you’re used to seeing, do they?

Pests have been around long before humans. And let’s face it – they’ll probably be around long after. Ever since mankind first decided to settle down, build shelter, and grow crops, we’ve been looking for ways to keep these pesky freeloaders out of our lives!

Sure, we’ve gotten quite good at pest control. But our high level of expertise didn’t come easy! We’re talking about thousands of years of learning and embarrassing trial-and-error that led to the pest control methods we use today.

To honour this human achievement, let’s take a walk through the history of pest-busting, from ‘pest’ to present.

Ancient Pest Control

The earliest record of pest control is a sad one.

Before 2500 BC, our forefathers probably didn’t understand what it meant to put up a front. When they came around to brainstorming a method of pest management, what they settled with wasn’t exactly… managing anything.

What the earliest farmers did was rather lucrative: they planted a ridiculous excess of crops so that once the pests had their fill, there would be enough left over for themselves.

Oh, well. Points for critical thinking, right?

The Dawn of Pest-Busting

Things got a little better from there. In 2500 BC, mankind finally grew a backbone and began to take arms, hunting those ruthless pests gnawing away at the product of their hard work and dedication.

Ancient Sumerians were the first. They used sulfur compounds to kill the insects that would feed on their crops!

The Emergence of Phenology

It’s around 1500 BC that civilizations began to realize that there’s a whole science to pest control.

Some Chinese civilizations came to develop and understand the basic workings of phenology, the study of cyclic and seasonal phenomena. They would experiment with crop rotations to account for sporadic ecological events, such as dry seasons and pest swarms.

It’s an impressive turnaround, considering mankind used to let these same pests walk all over them.

You Say You Want a Revolution

As people began to understand more and more about pest infestations, more control experiments began to occur. Individuals in China would take their phenological studies further by using botanical insecticides as fungicides for seed treatments.

And it wasn’t just China! Almost every ancient society began to develop more complex pest control practices. By 1200 BC, Romans would use hellebore to kill mice, rats, and insects, while Egyptian and Chinese societies would use herbs and oils to either repel or kill crop-destroying pests.

It was absolutely imperative for pest management to advance for mankind to develop as communities. After all, pest control was really a matter of life and death back then, a single bad harvest could’ve lead to an utter annihilation of a village and its people!

Early Breakthroughs

The evolution of extermination didn’t stop there! Ancient developments were taken and refined into more effective pest control solutions.

Fast forward to the 1750’s, and scientists began to experiment with various natural ingredients (derris and pyrethrum) to make botanical insecticides!

Pest Control Gone Too Far

Unfortunately, the sudden spur of research and development led to some severe consequences to public health and the environment.

Science went a little too far, too soon. In 1829, arsenic and other harmful chemicals were used for means of pest control. And of course, no one had any idea just how harmful they were.

At least, not until a decade later, as officials finally started recognizing the dangers of this pest control method.

By 1929, almost 30 million pounds of arsenate were spread across the United States’ fields and orchards. Crops were so plastered with the toxic chemical that they began to poison human consumers! That’s right – what was originally developed to kill pests ended up coming around to kill us.

The Pest Control Industry Emerges

It was after such devastating events that people realized pest control required trained professionals. After all, if there’s one thing the arsenic incident has taught us, putting pesticides in the hands of amateurs can be disastrous!

And so, in order to meet the demand for experts specialized in driving away pests without hurting the environment and its people, the pest control industry got off to a flying start.

The passage of several laws dedicated to make the practice of pest control safer followed after.

For instance, in 1910, the U.S. government put the Federal Insecticide Act into action, which aimed to regulate the use of pesticides. This was then followed by the Federal Environmental Control Act in 1972, which drove the pest control industry to do its job while taking the environment and its inhabitants in consideration.

Pest Control Today

It’s thanks to a long history of development that the pest control industry is where it’s at today.

Thankfully, our arsenic days are long behind us. The philosophy of “integrated pest management”, which is a broad-based approach that cultivates pest-removing practices without using invasive and potentially dangerous chemicals, is the mindset today.

Indeed, pest control has ‘gone green’, which is a natural consequence of the experiences mankind has gained over years of experimentation. Nowadays, pest exterminators pride themselves on non-chemical methods of control, such as freeze and heat-based treatments.

The Future of Pest Control is Buzzing

And guess what? We’re still not done yet!

Pest control studies are on-going. As the industry continues to learn and develop new technologies and biological breakthroughs, who knows how the pest control scene will look a hundred years from now?

Maybe one day, our predecessors will look back to our age and laugh at our modern pest management techniques – just like how we now laugh at our reckless use of arsenic solutions in the past.

Regardless of how much the industry will continue to change, some things will always stay the same.

For one, Terminix Canada has been providing clever and innovative pest control methods to the GTA for 20 years! We’re true sticklers to integrated pest management techniques, specializing in fast & organic pest control services.

For more information regarding our pest management & control services, call us at 905-738-6676!